Spend the Money to Save Lives
Given the economic downturn, many states and localities will be tempted to use the dollars to fill holes in their budgets rather than expand needed programs. Jurisdictions should use the funds to supplement rather than replace existing spending.
In addition to its dramatic health impacts, the COVID-19 pandemic has also harmed the U.S. economy, leaving gaps in localities’ operating budgets. Despite the increasing number of overdose deaths, many state and local governments have already made cuts to substance use and behavioral health programs.
However, at current funding levels, these programs are already not meeting the needs of people who use drugs. For example, only an estimated 10% to 20% of people with opioid use disorder are receiving any treatment at all. Accordingly, groups like the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association have called for all settlement funds to address the substance use epidemic.
How can Jurisdictions Adopt this Principle?
Establish a dedicated fund in which to put the dollars.
Ensuring that funds from the opioid lawsuits are being used to help people who use drugs is easier if dollars resulting from the various legal actions go into a dedicated fund. When establishing such a fund, jurisdictions should include specific language that the money from the fund cannot be used to replace existing state investments and outline the acceptable uses of the dollars when establishing this fund.
(See Principle #2—Using Evidence to Guide Spending for examples.)
Use the dollars to supplement rather than supplant existing funding.
In order to be sure that funds are being used to expand programs, jurisdictions should understand their baseline level of spending on substance use disorders. This will help ensure that dollars from any legal actions are additive to existing efforts. Most jurisdictions have already developed comprehensive strategic plans focused on opioid use; these plans can be used as a starting point for prioritizing new investments.
Don’t spend all the money at once.
Ameliorating the toll of substance use, and addressing the underlying root causes, will require sustained funding by states and localities. Jurisdictions should avoid the temptation to exchange future payments that result from the opioid litigation for an up-front lump sum payment, as happened in many states with dollars from the tobacco settlements. Should the opioid lawsuits result in a lump sum payment to jurisdictions, they should consider establishing an endowment so that the dollars can be used over time.